Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Book 34: Stream-of-Consciousness and Virginia Woolf.

I mentioned in my earlier post about Mrs. Dalloway that Virginia Woolf's style is hard to adjust to. I know from my own personal experience that I have to be in a right frame of mind to read Woolf (and Faulkner-I see huge similarities between the two).

Woolf liked to experiment with stream-of-consciousness among other writing techniques, which is why her novels can be hard to get into. It almost seems as if everything is disjointed and nothing seems cohesive. It is only through a lot of concentration and letting yourself just go with Woolf's flow that it begins to be pieced together.

I told a friend that in order to understand and appreciate this kind of writing, you have to think about how you think. I know that I can be sitting next to Matt on the couch having a conversation. While we are talking about one thing, my mind is racing. For example, I might mention to him that we need to buy more kitten food, and in my head I'll be thinking, "Well, we also need to buy new light bulbs, since I think we are out after I changed the one in the bedroom. I also really need to wash the duvet cover, but I should cook dinner first. But I don't think we have any onions left, which reminds me that the pantry is a mess." With that I will say, "I think you need to clean your stuff out of the pantry so I can re-organize the food items.

To him, it is a complete jump in conversation, but in my own head, it makes sense. I found a logical connection between kitten food and cleaning the pantry out. That process all took place in my head.

(And when we do have conversations like this, Matt always looks at me like I am crazy).

Virginia Woolf just translates that everyday thing we all do and puts it on paper. It makes the reader uncomfortable since we are so used to reading things linearly and cohesively. Having a character flash backwards or forward is confusing and throws us for a loop, but makes perfect sense for the character.

I think that is the biggest reason why readers new to Virginia Woolf find her difficult. It IS hard to change your perspective and get fully into a character's head. It is an intimate experience and hard to feel comfortable with.

But that is one of the reasons why I love writers like Virginia Woolf. In Mrs. Dalloway, she is taking me into the head of Clarissa Dalloway and a couple other main characters. I get to see their memories, their fears, their every thought on what seems to be a pretty normal day. Things like mending a dress become the biggest tasks in this kind of writing style.

I hope this helped explain a little. I know that just writing it out helped me solidify how I am feeling about the novel at this point (3/4 done), as well as reaffirm my love for this kind of writing.

Happy Reading!


  1. I've read Mrs. Dalloway twice now and learned so much more the second time. I think Woolf is one where rereadings are very helpful. And the more I read Woolf, the easier I understand her style, too.

  2. I've never tried to read Mrs. Dalloway..own a copy but to be honest, I'm very intimidated by her writing style!!

  3. I've tried to read Mrs. Dalloway once and gave up on it and never read anything else by Virginia Woolf. I think this post did help a lot on understanding what she was trying to achieve. I might just be brave and pick up a book by her again. Thanks.

  4. I think Woolf's characters think like me, which is why I've always found it easy to love her fiction. heehee

    My mom's the worst about thinking most of a thought in her head, and then just saying a bit of it outloud! I feel like a detective sometimes, trying to figure out what she's talking about. ;)

  5. I have had so much difficulty reading Woolf, and I think it is because the stream-of-consciousness thing gets me lost. I'd love to just sink into her words and go along with the flow, but part of me keeps asking: wait a minute? What's going on? looking for structure.

  6. LOL. I actually understand how Matt feels. But, on the other hand, that is how most women think. Men just don't get it. To be able to write like that is a major achievement.
    Love, Mom